Oct 12, 2021
Caprio Cellars makes wines from estate vineyards in
the Walla Walla viticultural area of eastern Washington. Owner and
winemaker, Dennis Murphy crafts wines mainly from Cabernet
Sauvignon and Merlot from his three Walla Walla vineyards, one of
which is named after his Italian grandmother Eleanor Caprio, and
another for his great grandmother Sanitella Caprio.
In the show, Dennis shares some good information about Walla
Walla and its climate, soils, and the region’s unique position in
the wine world. The bulk of the show is dedicated to my
conversation with him, and he gives us a different perspective from
others we’ve talked to in Walla Walla, like Sleight of Hand Cellars
(who doesn’t love Jerry Solomon and Episode 295)
and Amavi/ Pepperbridge (Eric McKibben rocks out Episode
294). But a lot of Dennis's references are to seminal
figures in the Walla Walla wine industry.
Photo: Dennis Murphy, Caprio
Given that, in the first part of the show, I spend a few minutes
telling you about the founding figures in the Walla Walla wine industry. Not only does
this help in explaining the references, it sets you up to
understand all of Walla Walla -- if you ever talk to anyone about
the region or go visit, these names will come up over and over
again. They are...
- Norm McKibben. A founding father of Walla
Walla’s wine industry, and he founded Pepper Bridge Cellars and
Amavi. His mentorship, forward thinking attitude (he was an early
proponent of sustainability), and openness are a big part of the
success of Walla Walla.
- Jean-Francois Pellet is the Director of
Winemaking and a partner at Pepper Bridge and Amavi. He was born and raised
in Switzerland, and is a third-generation wine grower. After
working in vineyards around Europe and for Heitz Cellars in the
Napa Valley, he was recruited by Norm to Pepper Bridge and
also helped start Amavi. He is an active
partner in the businessl and an important force in the Walla Walla
- Marty Clubb is Managing Winemaker and co-owner
of L’Ecole N° 41 with his
wife, Megan, and their children, Riley and Rebecca. Megan’s
parents, Jean and Baker Ferguson, founded L’Ecole in 1983. In
1989, Marty and Megan moved to Walla Walla and Marty became manager
and winemaker of L’Ecole. Marty, along with Norm McKibben and
Gary Figgins (see below) were the three most important figures in
starting viticulture in the Walla Walla Valley. Marty is one
of the most revered figures in Walla Walla.
- Gary Figgins is the founder of Leonetti Cellar, which was Walla
Walla’s first commercial winery. The Figgins family has been in
Walla Walla for over a century and Gary learned viticulture from
his uncles, who were farmers. He is self-taught and has done
miraculous things for Walla Walla – Leonetti’s wines were among the
first to gain high scores and national recognition for the valley.
Gary and his wife Nancy passed on the winery to their kids, Chris
and Amy, but Gary is a major figure in the development of Walla
Walla and is still active in vineyard consulting.
- Christophe Baron is a native of Champagne and
came to Walla Walla in 1993 while doing an internship at a vineyard
in Oregon. He saw the famed “rocks” of the Milton-Freewater
district that looked like the puddingstone in Châteauneuf-du-Pape,
and decided to buy 10 acres for his Cayuse Vineyards. The
waitlist for the winery is many years deep, so Cayuse’s wines are
only available to us on the secondary market (auctions and stuff –
there is a podcast to come on auctions that will make that
secondary market easy to understand!). He's essential to helping
make Walla Walla wine a coveted, hard to get luxury!
Dennis Murphy mentions other important wineries: Gramercy
Cellars, Va Piano, and Hanatoro, to name a few!
Finally, we discuss a few vineyards:
- Seven Hills
and Sevein: These are top vineyards of Walla Walla. They have
unique soils and are managed by the founding fathers of Walla Walla
– Norm McKibben, Marty, Clubb, Gary Figgins, and a few others, with
many top wineries sourcing from this land.
Photo: Seven Hills
After the intro, Dennis and I discuss Caprio, and its vineyards and
its wines, which are quite tasty. Dennis discusses winemaking
techniques, viticulture and sustainability, and his unique, very
welcoming hospitality model. He has recently purchased a stake in
Pepper Bridge and Amavi, so we discuss that briefly as well.
If you haven't been to Walla Walla, put it on the list. In many
ways it represents the. best of the American wine industry --
collegial, entrepreneurial, with a focus on hard work and quality.
Who could ask for more?
Photo: Caprio Cellars
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Session 2, October 28, at 8 PM Eastern
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